Athletics: Marathoner Soh Rui Yong sues track body for libel

National marathoner Soh Rui Yong had a three-hour meeting with officials from the Singapore Athletics last Friday (Sept 6).
National marathoner Soh Rui Yong had a three-hour meeting with officials from the Singapore Athletics last Friday (Sept 6).PHOTO: ST FILE

Marathoner files writ in High Court, seeking damages arising from SEA Games non-selection

National marathoner Soh Rui Yong filed a defamation writ and statement of claim yesterday against track and field's local governing body, Singapore Athletics (SA), in the High Court.

The High Court deals with civil cases where the claim exceeds $250,000.

This follows a three-hour meeting between the two-time SEA Games marathon champion and SA officials last Friday to resolve their dispute, which stems from the 28-year-old not being selected for this year's Games in the Philippines.

On Aug 1, selectors from the Singapore National Olympic Council had rejected SA's nomination of Soh for the SEA Games, citing "numerous instances" in which he displayed conduct "that falls short of the standards of attitude and behaviour" it expects from its athletes.

In its statement issued a day later, SA said Soh had on "several occasions breached SA's Athlete's Code of Conduct" and it had attempted to "counsel and reason with him" on these "transgressions".

But Soh took issue with SA's statement, and his lawyers from Foxwood LLC sent a legal note to the national sports association on Aug 7 seeking clarification to Soh's "purported breaches of the Code".

The athlete had previously demanded SA issue a public apology "if no such breach had arisen" and to retract its statement.

In the statement of claim filed yesterday morning, Soh claimed SA's statement was "false and defamatory" to him and demanded "damages for libel, including aggravated damages" which will be assessed by the court. He also asked SA to issue a public apology in selected media.

The Straits Times understands that an indicative value of $500,000 has been provided, but that damages for libel, including aggravated damages, will be left to the court to assess.

Soh's latest legal letter pointed out he had made "numerous attempts at seeking clarifications" from SA's lawyers but the association had "again affirmed that (Soh) was in breach of the Code, without providing any explanation or basis for the statement".

The letter added the claims in SA's Aug 2 statement "are entirely false, baseless and devoid of merit".

It also noted SA's "defamatory words" have "caused irreparable damage and/or injury to (Soh's) image and reputation" and that he has "also been put to significant loss, inconvenience and distress" as a result of this.

Referring to SA's Athlete's Code of Conduct, Soh's letter yesterday also pointed out he "cannot be said to have breached any... provisions" of the code "until the disciplinary procedure in Part C of the Code has been properly invoked and (Soh) has thereby been positively declared and/or found to have acted in breach of the Code".

Under SA's Athlete's Code of Conduct, published on its website, a written complaint has to be filed against an athlete, after which he or she is referred to the management committee, which may convene a disciplinary standing committee or conduct a hearing on the athlete.

After reviewing the complaint and conducting investigations, the management committee may make a finding on the merits of the complaint. The committee may set up an appeals panel and its decision "may be submitted exclusively by way of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport".

When contacted yesterday, SA president Tang Weng Fei expressed disappointment that the parties were not able to mediate the matter and that he would "leave it for the court to judge".

Soh had also on Aug 26 filed a defamation writ in the High Court against SA executive director Syed Abdul Malik Aljunied. He is suing for losses and damages arising from the latter's alleged defamatory comments made in a Facebook post and remarks from that same post's thread on Aug 17.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 12, 2019, with the headline 'Soh sues track body for libel'. Print Edition | Subscribe